Premier Tim Houston is pleading for firefighting help from the federal government and rejecting any suggestion that the province hasn’t been asking for it.

Wildfires in Barrington Lake, in Shelburne County; Pubnico in Yarmouth County; and Tantallon in HRM are all out of control. They covered nearly 19,000 hectares in total as of Wednesday afternoon, and there are more than 300 firefighters working along with eight helicopters and 10 planes.

Houston said during a media availability on Wednesday that he sent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a list of requests for help fighting the province’s fires.

“The prime minister has told me time and time again that he will be there, that the federal government would be there for Nova Scotians. We need them to be there for Nova Scotians,” Houston said.

“We have made the ask. Over the last few days there have been several requests of the federal government.”

A man wearing a dark suit, white shirt and no tie speaks at a podium. In the background are four Nova Scotia flags, coloured blue, yellow and red.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston speaks to reporters in Halifax on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. — Photo: Zane Woodford

The federal government has provided Coast Guard support in the Shelburne area and Houston said he expected disaster relief funding to come quickly. The government rebuffed a request for a water bomber, Houston said.

“We asked for water bombers early on in the process and were initially told by a minister’s office … that they couldn’t provide any but the province could look at renting some from a private company, which, of course, we’re exploring as well,” Houston said.

On Wednesday, Houston sent a letter (read it here) to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau requesting a “comprehensive support package.” That includes: military firefighters; ignition specialist personnel; firefighting foam; other firefighting supplies and equipment; 12 4×4 trucks; four helicopters certified to drop water; money for modular housing for people who’ve lost their homes; money for repairs and restorations; a commitment to match Red Cross funding; skilled trades personnel from the military; temporary foreign worker exemptions; and temporary leave benefits for temporary leave.

“The list of asks is significant. We know that the federal government has our asks, they know what we need, they’ve seen the pictures, they’ve seen the video, they’ve had the discussions with people working for the province at the elected level and other levels as well. But I would say this: the reality is we don’t know all of the resources that the federal government has at their disposal. They do,” Houston said.

“If you have more resources that we may not be aware of, or that you think could help in any way, we just ask, please, please send them to Nova Scotia … We’ll gladly accept it, we’ll gladly deploy it. We want to work together to get Nova Scotia through this.”

Houston addressed unspecified rumours that his government hadn’t asked the federal government for help, or that it was refusing help.

“I can’t stress enough how ridiculous I find the insinuations, on this call and on others that I’m hearing about, that somehow, the folks fighting this fire weren’t asking for help,” Houston said. “These fires grew quickly, very, very quickly, and they’re very serious fires and, of course, we want help, we need help at this time.”

Nova Scotia has had help from other provinces, including water bombers from Newfoundland and Labrador (three) and New Brunswick (eight) and firefighters from P.E.I. And from the northeast United States, firefighters are coming later this week and next.

Halifax mayor has his own requests for feds

During a media availability in Dartmouth, Mayor Mike Savage said he’s made his own requests to the federal government on behalf of HRM.

Savage said Public Safety Minister Bill Blair called him at 10pm Sunday night, and they’ve spoken many times since, including Wednesday afternoon, when Savage requested more equipment from the federal government.

A man wearing a white shirt and a grey HALIFAX sweater looks off camera.
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage speaks with reporters during a briefing about the Tantallon fire in Dartmouth on Tuesday, May 30, 2023. Credit: Zane Woodford

Specifically, the municipality has asked the federal government for portable potable water trailers, which can provide water to neighbourhoods as private wells are being tested for contaminants. As well, the municipality has asked the Department of National Defence for brush trucks, which can be driven while pumping water — these will be used to address ember falls and new fires, as needed.

Asked if the latter request reflects of lack of water resources on site, Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Deputy Chief Roy Hollett said it did not, and fire trucks have been travelling back and forth from city water hydrants.

Despite the apparent friction between Houston and Trudeau, Savage said the three levels of government are working well together.

“From political point of view, I’ve seen the sort of coordination at the political level. And, you know, it’s not one party or another. It’s the premier and most of us here, the prime minister and his folks, Bill Blair, we’ve had lots of calls from MLAs — Ian Rankin and I’ve heard from Claudia Chender, I’ve heard from Jagmeet Singh,” Savage said.

“I think that there’s a feeling that if we work together on this, that we can make a big difference much more quickly.”

That cross-party and inter-governmental cooperation was evident Monday afternoon, when Houston and Savage appeared at a press conference together in Dartmouth. But since then, the two levels of government have held separate press conferences. And Wednesday’s duelling press conferences overlapped — Savage and the municipal emergency response managers held a press conference in Dartmouth at 2:30pm, while Houston and the provincial team held a virtual conference that began at 3pm.

Ban burn violation fine increased

Also on Wednesday, the province announced it was increasing the fine for violating the burning ban, in place across Nova Scotia, to $25,000.

Savage and Houston said there were eight calls overnight Tuesday into Wednesday for illegal burns in HRM alone.

The two levels of government have also closed trails and parks in wooded areas to reduce the risk of more wildfires.

Click here to visit our Nova Scotia wildfires resource page.

Tim Bousquet is the editor and publisher of the Halifax Examiner. Twitter @Tim_Bousquet Mastodon

Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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  1. What resources has the forest industry provided in assisting the provincial government fight these fires. It is in their best interest to provide equipment and trained staff (forest techs, foresters, and what should be fire trained contractors). Especially when all harvesting operations should be suspended, regardless of loop holes. Or are the mills operating on crown land wood just sitting back, and when all is said and done, demand compensation for lost stumpage?

  2. Any idea why private woodlots do not burn (sarcasm).

    Unfortunately Houston did not close all woods. Night forestry is ok. Commercial interests can request a permit.

    Private forest owners can log their property anytime. Rural home & cottage owners can enter their own woods, use chain saws & chippers.